Chicago veteran musician Mike Gallemore talks about his experiences and friends in the blues circuit

"If blues came from racism and prejiduce and hard living and struggles, yes it’s still alive in America and the rest of the world. And any person of any race can experience it and project it through their music."

Mike Gallemore: The Blues Hands

Mike Gallemore is a well known veteran songwriter and musician of the Chicago Blues scene Mike has worked, played and traveled with many blues artist including: The Kinsey Report, Carl Weathersby, Billy Branch, The Sons of the Blues, Sam Cockrell and the Groove, Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Biscuit Miller, Shirley King, Jimmy Johnson, The Legendary Sam Lay, Floyd Miles of the Gregg Allman Band, Buddy Miles of The Band of Gypsies. He has also fronted his own band “Red Hot and Blue” which frequently headlined Chicago Blues clubs such as Buddy Guy’s Legends and Koko Taylor’s on West Division.

Mike Gallemore's album "Music Man" re-release as digital download. Photo by Monique Grimme

In 1998 he released a solo effort entitled “Music Man” to rave reviews but continued to appear with many other artists as a guest on recordings or as a supporting member of their road bands.  Mike relocated to the East Coast in 2003 where he continues to perform in Blues circles and beyond with his band The Bad Hands of New Jersey. The Bad Hands are pushing the limits of the Blues and are quickly making a name for themselves on the East Coast music scene with their brand of Funk/Rock/Blues. In June of 2013 they released their first EP.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues and what does the Blues mean to you?

I learn that people are people, that we all hurt sometime and to have empathy for others when I don’t understand them, instead of criticizing. It’s helped me to grow up with a healthy mind towards life and people. To me the Blues is a healing music, it brings you up when you feel down, it will make you smile and most of all it brings people together. It transcends problems with races, ages, nationality’s and genders if you open to it.

How do you describe your sound and what characterizes “The Bad Hands” and “Red Hot and Blue” Philosophy?

My sound has been described as Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Robert Cray at Steven Tyler’s House! I like clean funky and beautiful chords but lazer like lead guitar tones. I love to take different angles into the blues and fuse it with other genres. The Bad Hands sound is very Funky and guitar and harmonica driven. It’s designed to get you into the groove and party, to celebrate life and have a good time! Red Hot and Blue was focused more on the guitar as most of the time we were a power trio, Bass, Drums, Guitar. The philosophy has always been to encourage the other members of the band to create and write. A band is a band when all the members have input. We all take credit as co-writers for every song because we figured out, that is why bands split up, over song credits. This way it solidifies us as a group and adds some cohesiveness to the unit. It’s an honest environment and breeds good relationships within. Since we have two twenty-two year olds we insist that they be part of the creative process. But these guy’s are not just average musician’s they are way beyond their years in ability. Confidence and discipline is what we concentrate on.

"To me the Blues is a healing music, it brings you up when you feel down, it will make you smile and most of all it brings people together. It transcends problems with races, ages, nationality’s and genders if you open to it."

Do you think the new generation is interested in the Blues? Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Yes, the new generation is very much into the Blues! We just did a Festival (the Otis Mountain Get Down) with 29 other acts, most from Burlington, Vermont in upstate New York. It was mostly a college crowd from Burlington and they loved us. I got inspired just being there. The response was overwhelming! By real blues if you mean from the Mississippi Delta yes. There is always going to be real blues. There is plenty of real blues around even outside Mississippi. If blues came from Racism and prejiduce and hard living and struggles, yes it’s still alive in America and the rest of the world. And any person of any race can experience it and project it through their music.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which is the best and worst moment of your career?

I’d have to say the present is the most interesting moment in my life. The world has gone through so many changes in my 54 years. It seems to be getting better and some things worse at the same time. The internet has made it a wide open world for the independent artist. The law has cracked down on drinking and made it hard on musicians and clubs yet musicians continue to work and prosper due to the amount of communication lines open to them instantly with the click of a button. It’s pretty exciting! The best moment of my career is always now. I know that sounds strange but I live by the philosophy that the past is gone and to live in the present. I always feel the need to grow. I love playing with The Bad Hands and I write a lot of songs that we don’t use so I’m be busy as a solo artist too. I’m grateful for being born a musician and have many great memories and experiences throughout the years that help me keep the faith! The worst moments of my career have always been the times when I lost that faith. When you feel like you want to quit, that you’re wasting your time.  All musicians go through those times and those are the darkest days and usually some really great music comes from those times! 

Why do you think that Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

It brings people together; I believe that people want that. There something within the music that heals the soul. Something telling you to look at yourself, we can do this, we can make it right. I love a Blues crowd you look and see every age, race, it’s a beautiful thing and you can dance to it! The people smiling and having a good time!

"Yes, the new generation is very much into the Blues!" 

Do you remember anything funny from recording and show time with The Bad Hands?

Yes our Harmonica player Mike Foli has a tremendous personality, when we first started he would forget his parts and everyone would look at me! I’d be like “what do you want me to do about it”? When we were recording the EP he would go out into the streets and bring strangers in to listen! He keeps us entertained just by being himself! Very likeable guy! I should add he’s an awesome Percussion player as well and a tremendous writer and singer we are blessed to have Mike in the band! Except he steals all the women! So I’ve learned to use him as a gauge, if they get past him then they must be more my type. It’s hell being single in The Bad Hands!

What’s the best jam you’ve ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you’ve ever had?

The best jam that’s hard. I’ve played with some really great bands and players both planned and on the fly. But once while in Aspen Colorado we ran into the guy’s from the band Los Lobos in a club we were playing. Little did I know that those guys’ love to play the Blues and it was an incredible night of jamming! Anytime I played with Carl Weathersby is memorable. He’s a true master and great teacher. I remember doing duos together, just me and him, a couple of amps and guitars and have the whole club dancing! One of the most memorable gigs would have to be the Chicago Blues Festival; no one can forget playing to that crowd! Another was when Red Hot and Blue was the house band in a club on the South Side of Chicago called Wargo’s Food Booze and Blues, people would be packed in there like sardines every night. The Latin Kings (street gang) ruled the neighborhood but would never bother the Blues crowd at Wargo’s. In fact they would hang outside and make sure everything was alright. Again, the Blues bringing people together!

"I love a Blues crowd you look and see every age, race, it’s a beautiful thing and you can dance to it! The people smiling and having a good time!"

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Meeting Carl Weathersby was most important for me. At that time he was with Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues. He started letting me play when they had packed crowds and my name spread quickly in Chicago with Billy and Carl as messengers. Carl is the type that tells you straight what he thinks of your performance. He told me a lot of things I didn’t want to hear at the time but I have so much respect for him and he states it with so much authority, that it had to sink in! He and Billy are Legends in my book, you can find musicians as good but none better. The best advice I ever received was from Ronnie Baker Brooks and Donald Kinsey who both kind of said the same thing differently: 1) Put God first 2) Play with conviction 3) Feel it!

Are there any memories from the Kinsey Report, Billy Branch and Lonnie Brooks that you’d like to share with us?

That would be too lengthy but there are some great stories! Maybe some other time but I can tell you one memory I have about all of them. They are all super fantastic, hard-working, honest people.

I’m proud to have been in their circles and their music will always be sacred to me. I never played in Lonnie’s band but I did use his band to record my Music Man CD. Lonnie and Buddy Guy are two of the most dynamic performers I’ve ever witnessed!!

What do you miss most nowadays from the Blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

Most of all I miss the masters of the Blues that have passed. Muddy Waters, Albert King, Albert Collins, Freddie King, Bobby Bland, Johnnie Taylor, Little Milton, Tyrone Davis, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Stevie Ray Vaughan etc.. The Chicago guy’s that have passed, Big Daddy Kinsey, Phil Guy, Chico Banks, Valerie Wellington, Pinetop Perkins, etc.. The list goes on.. The blues of the past is always missed; musicians all look to the music of the past to influence their own. If there is one thing I miss in general it’s the down homeness that the masters use to capture. The world was simple then. A phone call cost a dime and there were phone booths! How many songs have heard about that! My hopes are that the genre continues to grow and that people will support it. I don’t have much fear even when the current masters pass the Blues still appears to be rolling steady!             (Photo by Cathy Miller)

Which memory from Jimmy Johnson, Sam Lay, Floyd Miles and Buddy Miles make you smile?

Jimmy Johnson is an incredible singer and he can’t stand to hear his own voice. In fact he hates his voice while everyone else stands in awe! Sam Lay and Floyd Miles always told me I had what it takes to make it! I could never forget that! The first time I met Buddy Miles I slapped his Beret off his head and he tripped over my guitar and laughed!

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Funk and Beyond?

I use to teach the Blues in the Schools program with Shirley King who could explain it much clearer than I can but that’s a great question and very open to arguments. To me all music comes from spiritual music.  The Modes that comprise musical harmony were made in the churches. The Blues as an American art form I believe was born in the South and stems from gospel music and spirituals that black folk sang during slavery to ease their minds and give them hope. It was a healing thing and I believe strongly that all music has healing qualities when used for that purpose. Blues is a feeling, Funk is feeling and soul is a feeling. The other genres are the blues intellectualized by musicians. Muddy Waters said The Blues had a baby and they named the baby Rock and Roll. All music is born out of blues, some artist try to rip the roots from the tree but it doesn’t grow. Sure it may stick around a while if you can find a way to market it and sell it but dies out. Blues goes on and on! Blues is life!

"My hopes are that the genre continues to grow and that people will support it. I don’t have much fear even when the current masters pass the Blues still appears to be rolling steady!"

From a musical point of view what are the differences between Chicago and New Jersey Blues scene?

There are many more musicians and clubs in Chicago. If you mean stylistically Chicago players have more Rhythm and Blues and Soul and Funk music roots. In Chicago it’s not uncommon to hear Blues Bands play Tyrone Davis, Johnnie Guitar Watson, Bobby Womack, Prince, Michael Jackson, Funkadelic, James Brown with their own songs. On the East Coast the bands seem to lean on the 12 bar formula a lot and use a swing shuffle feel. I think it’s referred to as Jump Blues out here. It’s all good and that’s my perception for what it’s worth.  It would make sense as Chicago I believe has the biggest black population in the States. A lot of us Baby Boomer’s dismissed a lot of the black music in the heavy rock era as disco and now those same folks are into funk, soul and blues! I’m somewhat guilty too!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for one day?

If I were traveling to the past take to me to Beale Street, Memphis 1950’s where it all began! That’s the true cradle not Chicago.

Mike Gallemore - official website

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